At the beginning of a new Presidential Administration, the incoming President makes personnel changes, including selecting new Cabinet secretaries and agency heads. These new appointees may appoint a number of officials on the basis of their support for the President’s goals and policies. These are the officials who are responsible for formulating, advocating, and directing Administration policies and programs, or are those who serve such officials in a close and confidential relationship.
Most executive branch positions are in the “competitive service,” or in a separate but similar competitive merit system. Employees in positions that traditionally change when Presidential Administrations change are not part of the competitive civil service.
Incumbents of these discretionary positions customarily resign at the request of the new incoming Administration officials or before a new agency head takes office. It also is common for an incoming Administration to ask certain persons to remain in their jobs during the transition to ensure needed continuity during the initial period of staffing.
Positions That May Be Changed During a Transition
There are four broad categories of individuals or positions that may be changed during transition:
- Presidential appointments made with the advice and consent of the Senate (PAS) to positions in which the incumbent serves at the pleasure of the President.
- Other Presidential appointments (PA) to positions in which the incumbent serves at the pleasure of the President.
- Noncareer Senior Executive Service (SES) appointments.
- Appointments to other positions in which the incumbent serves at the pleasure of the agency head.
Positions in these four categories normally include Cabinet Officers and heads of other executive branch agencies; Under Secretaries; Assistant Secretaries; Directors of Bureaus and Services; and Chairpersons and Members of Boards, Commissions, and Committees. Positions in all four categories above are often authorized by specific provisions of law.
Positions that are generally subject to change during transitions are listed in a document called, United States Government Policy and Supporting Positions, commonly known as the Plum Book. An interactive version of the 2016 Plum Book is available here.